Road bikes

The success of gravel bikes, there is one for every adventure

The combination of a racing bike and a mountain bike, ideal for pedalling fast on compact dirt trails, gravel bikes have conquered the amateur and pro cycling worlds.

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The legendary tales of a bygone era of cycling, of the first stage races and the first classic cycle races, of the duels of Coppi and Bartali and before them, those of Binda and Girardengo, have one thing in common, besides a high dose of epic sportsmanship and that is dust, mud and gravel. Almost all the cycling races of yesteryear were held on unpredictable, challenging and very fascinating loose terrain. It was only after World War II, with the fast diffusion of cars (and of tarmac roads, as a consequence), that professional road cycling abandoned dirt tracks, relegating them almost entirely to other disciplines, like cyclo-cross or downhill biking. That was true at least until about ten years ago when racing and mountain biking started coming together in a hybrid known as the gravel bike that is as popular today among organisers of grand tours and classic cycling races as it is among amateur cyclists and tourists.

Gravel, by extension, means an unpaved but smooth surface to ride on. Today, gravel also defines the type of bicycle with which to ride on these roads. Originating in the United States as handmade bicycles with hybrid road and cyclo-cross frames, today all major bike manufacturers have at least one gravel bike in their line-up to meet the demands of a dynamic and growing market. Unlike cyclo-cross bikes, gravel bikes have fewer vertical tubes and a lower bottom bracket casing. They are stable and have rounded lines for comfortable and smooth riding on both road and off-road. Unlike racing bikes, however, they have very sturdy frames and allow the use of thicker tyres more resistant to gravel and compact dirt roads.

The success of gravel biking is gaining momentum on pro and amateur levels, as mentioned. The Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta and several classics, today include dirt segments in their routes, which are spectacular and unpredictable for spectators and hark back to the epic imagery of cycling in the past. These moments have helped cycle races to regain appeal and expand their audience. The success of amateur competitions has given new impetus to dirt track cycling at the highest level, as exemplified by the Eroica, originally an amateur race and now transformed by the pros into a race as coveted as the Strade Bianche.

Improvements in technology on the one hand, with the creation of bikes perfect for fast pedalling on unpaved roads and the growing desire for adventure on the other, have led many cyclists to choose the gravel bike for their cycling trips. Trips and gravel bike races evoke an idea of sharing and adventure. It is no coincidence that, especially in the USA, competitions open to both professionals and amateurs are becoming increasingly popular. The bikes themselves are designer objects, beautiful to own as well as to ride. In the refreshed enthusiasm for cycling that is characterising the post-pandemic world, gravel bikes are certainly among the most successful models.